This is going to be one of those blog posts where I start off with a basic idea and it morphs into something completely different. Lately I’ve been entering most blog posts with a solid plan and a clear direction of something to write about, but I just don’t know if I can get a full blog post out of that as the only recent Nats rumors have them as a team that watched Ryan Madson’s throwing showcase. It is good news that he hit 93 in what amounts to a bullpen session and he would be a help to any team if he can even get close to what he once was. The other news involving the Nats is the speculation that they would be interested in AJ Burnett. I looked at why this would be a good idea last week or the week before (I can’t remember), but this sounds more like media speculation than an actual rumor.
Back to Madson then. If the Nats were to sign him it would be on a minor league deal. As there are reportedly fifteen teams interested in Madson’s services and it would be unwise to sign him to anything but a minor league deal this is a case of a player being able to choose where they want to pitch. As I’ve mentioned before one of the weaknesses of the 2013 Nats is that they entered Spring Training with too set of a roster. A player like Ryan Madson would’ve never chosen the 2013 Nationals because there simply wasn’t a spot for them. That isn’t the case this season and the Nationals have an absolute plethora of pitchers competing for the last spot in the bullpen.
This is the last spot if only you believe Ross Ohlendorf’s one year $1 million deal guarantees him anything, in my opinion it doesn’t. $1 million in modern baseball is nothing and if Ross Ohlendorf isn’t the best option as the sixth or seventh man in the Nats bullpen then he is gone. That means there is really a competition for two spots in the bullpen and the competitors are some mix of the pitchers that miss out on the final rotation spot (Detwiler, Jordan, Ohlendorf, Roark, Karns) and more traditional relief pitchers (Garcia, Mattheus, Ayala, Hensley, Delcarmen, Cedeno, Davis, Barrett). And never count out someone like AJ Cole for either spot. He is a long shot but if a player is in Spring Training they have a shot to make the team even if it is at a Lloyd Christmas level.
If the Nationals were to add Burnett or Madson it would change the dynamic of that competition. If Madson is healthy he will win one of those remaining spots, and it is important to remember he isn’t the only reliever still on the market. Oliver Perez, Joel Hanrahan, and Andrew Bailey are all still available even though Hanrahan and Bailey wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season, but look at the list of those pitchers again. There are two spots in the bullpen and one in the rotation. Counting prospects with invites to Spring Training like Cole and Barrett that is fourteen pitchers competing for three spots. If Ohlendorf and Detwiler win one of those two spots every other pitcher has options. That gives the Nationals ten pitchers stashed at AAA that could pitch in the major leagues. That is the type of depth the Nationals didn’t have in 2013.
When things went wrong with the Nationals bullpen last season there wasn’t much they could do. Fernando Abad, Ian Krol, and Erik Davis did eventually earn call-ups, but none of them were all that great and with Storen and Mattheus struggling, along with Zach Duke and Henry Rodriguez falling flat on their faces the Nationals bullpen started the season with three reliable relievers and that isn’t a good place to be. No matter who wins the three pitching spots on the Nationals roster they will have more ability to make moves when things go wrong during the 2014 season than they were during 2013. Ryan Madson doesn’t change that at all. At the best he is close to what he was with the Phillies and at the worst he is minor league depth.
AJ Burnett changes things a little more. The person it affects the most is Ross Ohlendorf. As of right now Ohlendorf has a good shot to be a long reliever/swing-man, but if the Nationals sign Burnett, Detwiler will go to the bullpen, and with Stammen already in place as a right handed long reliever there is no longer a need for Ohlendorf on the roster and it is likely that the final bullpen spot goes to a more traditional reliever. Burnett is the better signing, but that shouldn’t even need saying. There is a reason he is the pitcher that will get a $10-15 million major league deal and Ryan Madson is going to get a minor league deal with incentives. Burnett would make the Nationals a better team while Madson would give them more of what they already have. Both are useful things and will be needed to make it through a 162 game season. But as we’ve learned before not all rumors are true and the only way to find out if the Nationals end up making another signing before Spring Training is over is to wait.